Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Winter's Discontents

December 31, 2014

Now is the winter of our discontent
A ghastly Fall for this child of York;
And all the reddened clouds that lour'd upon the House
Sank deep my Senate hopes, to the ocean buried.
Now our wounds are bound with crepe of black;
Bold placards hung for mocking monuments;
The pachyderm beckons the herd to merry meetings,
A dissonant march shouts out delightful measures.
Grim-visaged electoral war wiped clean South’s last aqua tint;
And now, instead of fearsome Harry Reid
To rile the nature of ambitious adversaries,
Mitch capered nimbly in the august chamber
Nipping bourbon smooth and biting chaw.
What next, for Dems, so harsh the no?
Does Hill look back from mirror’s shine;
Or Warren’s swan to set the heart aflutter?
Poor Joe, a man with teeth agleam,
Half wolf, he says, half lamb, we see;
And what of O, curtailed of height and heft?
Stands alone amidst the rising seas,
A tree deformed, unfinish'd, lamed-ducked
Resign right now? Scarce half made up?
His plans so out of sorts, passé, not new
Barely earn McCain’s bark, or Mitt’s firm pooh;
So who is next, Bush, Cruz or Rand?
Is it Marco’s rage, or Kasich’s bland?
Could Christie’s star shine anew?
Or Perry’s three-shooter aim for true?
Perhaps a budget wonk, Paul Ryan’s mark.
Jindal’s bayou boy, Huck’s pungent pork?
Yet O is shrewd, or so its said
Deformed, perhaps, but not quite dead:
His charms have dimmed, no lover he,
And yet, there he stands for all to see
Villain, they shrieked, what fate you plan for us?
A ruse, they claimed, to drive the elephant mad?
The plots he lays, are quiet, dark, and dangerous,
Sly clubs he pulls fromst’ deep inside tattered bag
Cigars and rum, and save the trees, in silence does he scheme
A migrant’s tale, fresh fruit not meat, a regulator’s dream
And tho’ we feign indifference, the chill we feel is real
What dost thou O be thinking, what bells begin to peal?
Ignore him, say his foes, it’s Congress rules the roost
Impeach him now, it’s only fair, for we are the true and just
Yet prophet warns for all to know,
The omen’s plain and clear
Behead the King, his power grows,
His secret wish draws near.
Not peace, not war, nor greedy hope to tax the rich and fat
Not caliphate, not socialist, but no, not even that.
Tis wary lies the head, that seeks the crown too soon
An eager hand will feels the sting, the serpent leaves a wound
What fate could all befall us, if haste speeds up the end?
Not Jeb, nor Ted, nor Marco, a-packing we can send.
We ask the seer, if not Red but Blue, Hill, or Liz, or Jim?
But darkness clouds her vision, the crystal ball grows dim
We ask O plain, he shakes his head, it’s clear he just won’t tell
Aught-sixteen, he grins, could be The Year of Michelle.

Happy New Year to all, and best wishes for wonderful 2015. 

Michael Liss (Moderate Moderator)

Friday, December 26, 2014

El Obama's Scroogie

El Obama’s Scroogie

December 26, 2014

The great Cuban-born pitcher, Luis Tiant, had a live arm as a young man.  Scouted in his teens while playing for Cuban Juvenile League All-Star team in 1957, he was signed for the enormous sum of $150.00 per month, and then purchased by the Cleveland Indians in 1961, just in time to have hostilities between the United States and Cuba escalate.  He didn’t see his parents for fourteen years. 

In the late 1960’s, Tiant hurt his shoulder, and after some difficult years, realized that to continue pitching effectively he had to change. Out emerged El Tiante —different arm-angles, different release points, a curve, a scroogie, a little of this and a little of that, and, most famously, one of the most bizarre wind-ups seen since the Dead-ball era.  He literally turned his back on the hitter, regaining the time from his lost zip with the extra split second that the batter took to determine when the ball would actually be thrown.  He broke all the rules—no one was like him.  And he got results.

Barack Obama just pulled a little El Tiante.  He looked at all the rules about our relationship with Cuba, decided they weren’t putting wins up on the board, and came up with a new pitch from an entirely new delivery.  Obama decided to bring Cuba just a little bit in from the cold.

Was he right?  You have to pick through the issues very carefully.  Let’s start with the Castros. Good guys, lovers of liberty?  Not exactly.  If there has been any mellowing, we can stipulate they hide it very well.  

And, we can also stipulate that the Cuban émigrés who lost both political freedom and personal assets in Fidel’s La Revolución justifiably bear a long grudge. They ended up on the wrong side of a struggle between one form of dictatorship and another. One can’t blame them for resisting anything short of Castro’s complete capitulation and a triumphant return to the homeland.

It is a peculiarity of our history that we don't really understand revolution, even though we lived it.  We don’t get the concept that radical changes in leadership can lead to a complete reversal of fortune, both in the political and economic spheres.  It didn’t happen here.  We had some bloodshed, a bit of tar and feathering, many Tories left and were compensated by the Crown, but if someone had slept through 1776 and awoken 15 years later, they probably wouldn’t have been shocked at who had money and power.  Nor would they have been that shocked at the way we went about things—we emulated the Brits, except for keeping the King.

But Fidel really was “The World Turned Upside Down”.  So, any re-evaluation of Cuban policy begins with the unhappiness of the older generation of Cuban émigrés who lost it all and want to see no normalization.  You have to accept that their feelings are genuine, and legitimate, and must be taken into account.  But you then have consider that, with the passing of years, we have begun a changing of the guard—and a majority of younger Cuban-Americans support normalization.  Finally, we have to ask the most important, and frankly, the most uncomfortable question—what is in our national interest, and how does the present policy advance those goals?

We might as well start on the third by admitting something to ourselves.  American foreign policy is generally driven by self-interest.  George W. Bush’s “Freedom Agenda” was a lovely concept, very high-minded, and we can even agree for the purposes of argument that he advanced it for noble reasons.  But it is totally impractical as a central rationale.  We don’t do it that way.  We pick our friends and our enemies to advance our interests.  In our hemisphere, we have, at various times, stood behind the Argentinian Junta, the dictatorships in Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Duvalier’s Haiti.  There was cold calculation in this: first, support American business (Banana Republic wasn't always so stylish) and later as a Cold-War strategy.

What about Cuba?  Well, there is the very stirring Teddy Roosevelt charge up San Juan Hill, an epic in the Spanish American War of 1898.  And then, the far more prosaic Cuban “Constitution” we imposed, which allowed Uncle Sam to drop by on occasion to make sure that they maintained “a government adequate for the protection of life, property, and individual liberty.”  As Thomas Donlan pointed out in a recent editorial in Barrons, we did these little ‘interventions’ in force and on a regular basis in the early part of the 20th Century.  Donlan went on to quote a Marine Major General who operated in Cuba and other Latin American countries “I was a racketeer for capitalism.”

“Racketeer for capitalism” isn’t exactly the type of sentiment that stirs the soul, but we are all past that, of course.  That leaves us basically with one remaining “national interest”; Cuba is infested with Commies.  Certainly true.  As is our largest foreign holder of US Treasuries, “Red” China, and as is a place like North Viet Nam, where we lost over 50,000 of our men not all that long ago.  

How about a strategic issue?  There was that nasty incident in 1962 where the Russians placed nuclear-tipped missiles in Cuba. So, the embargo, which was imposed in 1960, and strengthened by a series of laws enacted afterwards, would seem to have some “existential” underpinnings.  Except that was more than 50 years ago, and we did about $30 Billion worth of trade with Putin’s kleptocracy in 2014, despite the rather limited embargo we’ve imposed on them recently for Ukraine.  Somehow, the logic seems to dim….

A rational person would acknowledge that more than 50 years of this have not produced the regime change we wanted, have not restored the now fairly ancient warriors of the expat community to their homes and assets, and frankly does us very little good in the world of diplomacy.  We look silly—everyone else quite happily smokes Cuban cigars—and the small-mindedness of this, coupled with an obvious double standard, diminishes the moral force of our arguments in the international forum on a host of other issues. 

All that being said, we have to acknowledge that there are still domestic political considerations. Those expat Cubans not only have a moral claim, but also still hold major sway, particularly in Electoral Voter-rich Florida.  And, while President Obama has considerable Executive Branch authority to conduct foreign relations, there is a web of at least half a dozen laws that would have to be amended by Congress.

What happens next? The President has already opened the door, and it remains to be seen whether Congress, soon to be completely controlled by the GOP, will either move things along, or try to slam it as hard as possible on his foot.  They have a few approaches they can take.  The most passive would be to refuse to alter existing legislation, but let the rest of Obama’s policy proceed.   Or, they could do as they threatened and defund any spending on enacting it.  Or, they could escalate even further by defunding and adding a condemnatory resolution.

This isn’t going to be easy. GOP has a real conundrum, because they are going to have reconcile what position they ultimately want to take it in plain view.  Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush have roundly denounced Obama, but Rand Paul approves.  Donlan, by no stretch of the imagination a liberal, supports the new policy.  So, of all people, does George Will.  As does the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which spent nearly 100% of its campaign contributions on Republicans in the last election cycle.  And any number of other Republican/Conservatives who deplore the fact that “Emperor” Obama did it, but quietly admit there really isn’t anything wrong with the concept, it’s just “the way” he did it, or that he wasn’t gracious enough to not do it and wait for one of theirs to get the credit. 

But, I like it.  I don’t care much about the political ramifications.  And I don’t know whether Obama is right on this, but he’s done something really fascinating.  He has taken a policy that has long demonstrated its ineffectual nature, and challenged it. In sclerotic Washington, that is worth something.

Old El-Obama threw a scroogie.  I'd like to see that pitch more.  From both parties.

Michael Liss (Moderate Moderator)

Comments?  Email us.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Flourish or Perish

I have been feeling a little blue since the midterm election, or, more accurately, a little black and blue, so I decided to give myself a break from staring at screens for almost anything political.  I pulled on my running clothes, and, instead of heading to Central Park, I jogged down to Strand. 

I had a mission—find an in-stock copy of the economist Edmund Phelps’ Mass Flourishing and otherwise poke around in that absurdly appealing dog-pile of dusty obscure books.

I located the Phelps, in a “review copy, not for resale” version (which heightened its outlaw appeal) and devoured it. It’s not a perfect book, not always cleanly laid out, but Phelps is a polymath, and Mass Flourishing isn’t just about economics, it’s also a bit of a ramble about human achievement and drive and artistic expression, about music, and trading routes, and painting, and philosophy.  It led me all over the place, some times with false starts, sometimes down alleyways that I found unconvincing, but I found it had an inner drive that pulled me along. When I finished it, I had this odd hunger for conversation, but it being a weekend, the apartment emptied out, I turned instead to the NPR website, where you can hear the whispery narration merely by reading the text.  I deliberately skipped over the “Cromnibus” swamp, to a little story, “Congress Says Goodbye to its Last WWII Vets”.

When this 113th Congress finally, and blessedly, calls it a wrap, it will note the retirements of Democrat John Dingell of Michigan, and Republican Ralph Hall of Texas.

These two were the last—in Dingell’s words, “the last leaves on the tree.”  Literally hundreds came before them.  The incoming class of 1946 had 70 vets, including JFK and Nixon.  Their tenure (it reached its peak from the late 40’s to the 1970’s) was marked by a lot of good old push and shove (these weren’t shrinking violets) and a surprising amount of bipartisanship. They did a lot together.

Not everyone mourns their passing—in fact, many think this is a good thing, because our connection to their shared experience and sense of community has been fraying for some time. In many cultures, the old are venerated for their wisdom.  Not ours. We don’t think they have anything of value—rather they represent a drain on us—spending our inheritances, taking up booths in the diners as they nurse their coffees, causing the bus to kneel and wait when we have to get someplace.  We go through the motions of honoring them, but really, they annoy us and, in moments of quiet reflection, they scare us—they represent a future we fear we cannot escape.

But the Greatest Generation is different, regardless of what lens you choose to look through.  Not merely because they fought and won the war against Germany and Japan, but also because they are the last of the Depression generation—the last group to have first-hand memories of a sustained failure of capitalism, and its slow, but powerful recovery.   

Imagine 25% unemployment.  Imagine a stock market where the Dow Jones Industrial Average went from 381.17 to 41.22—89 cent loss on the dollar.  Imagine going to the bank where you had painstakingly put together your savings and finding it out of cash, or with its doors closed.

That was reality for many who later served in Congress. It was reality for my parents.  My maternal grandfather had a tailor shop, and no customers for nice suits and coats.  My mother remembered not being able to go to the 1939 World’s Fair, because the carfare (round trip subway tokens for four) was too much.  My father’s Dad had a candy store on the Upper West Side and lived above it in a small room six days a week, then went home to the Bronx on the seventh day. 

It marked my parents, just as it marked many of their generation.  They ran a drugstore for more than thirty years—my Mom did the billing, and when some of their customers got in a bit of trouble, like the loss of a job, and fell behind, she’d ask my Dad, who, more often then not, would screw up his face, wave his hand, and mutter something that translated it to “don’t send it, not the right thing to do.”  My parents were exceptionally generous people, but they were not the exception for their time or their community.  Everyone helped out a little.  And, also like many of their generation, they were planners. You always kept a little money in the house.  And in a jacket pocket.  And the linen drawer.  And, maybe in a brown night deposit bag.  And in the lower left drawer of the desk.  Because, you never know when you are going to need a few dollars. 

This type of thinking, a peculiar combination of self-reliance, a sense of a social obligation, and a willingness to work hard, helped shaped their generation and gave it vitality and drive. If you made it through the Depression, if you came back from the war in one piece, you knew—just knew, that if you stuck to it, you could make a place for yourself in America.

What people learned were two things that to contemporary ears seem contradictory, but made perfect sense then.  The first was that some big problems (Hitler, Tojo, Dust Bowl, rural electrification) needed top-down directed mass efforts to solve.  The second was that individual effort led to creativity, innovation, and rewards—the very essence of Calvinist-inspired capitalism.  In short, there was a feeling that success was both achievable and scalable—I might build a better mousetrap and make a million, and we could put a man on the moon.     

I found some of this optimism in Phelps’ book, along with deep concern that the growing corporatism that marks both our economic and political lives is stifling the ability and even the urge to be a risk-taker, to be creative, to find meaningful work.  Phelps believes in the individual: both the monumental thinkers and achievers like Einstein or Henry Ford, and the ordinary people like the plumber who designs a new wrench and the small businessman who throws every bit of money and energy he has into his bodega. Their work becomes meaningful, and from it comes a sense of personal pride, a place in the community earned and not just given, and perhaps, a chance to be a pair of shoulders for others to stand on to achieve even more.  It is quintessentially American. 

Unfortunately, this dynamism, which lasted from the 1830s to the 1960s, has begun to ebb with growth of the super-state.  Phelps points to the thicket of rules and regulations, of safety nets that shield people and big business from the worst of it, and of legislatively enacted barriers to entry, whether they be monopoly control of an industry, or unionized labor’s control of the bargaining process. In his view, these all have created a rent-seeker class of politicians and technocrats who understand neither economics nor business, but have a keen sense of how to market access and favorable treatment.

Where to lay blame? Well, Phelps is clearly a low-regulation free market kind of guy who holds socialism and corporatism in rather low esteem. But he also inspires you, just a bit, with two somewhat unexpected traits.  The first is, he’s not an ideologue—he approaches the data with integrity and reaches his conclusions without a political agenda. The second is his generosity of spirit.  He really is searching for an answer to benefit the maximum number of people. 

That’s what Mass Flourishing is about: an effort to “revive the modern values that stirred people to go boldly forth toward lives of richness.”

Lives of richness.  Flourishing instead of perishing.  Professor Phelps turned 81 this last summer, but that sounds like a pretty young idea to me.   

December 18, 2014

Michael Liss (Moderate Moderator)

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Sunday, November 30, 2014

Looking for the Letters of Transit

Looking for the Letters of Transit
Sam’s Piano was sold at auction the other day.  That’s the Sam’s Piano, the one from which Dooley Wilson serenaded Ilsa and Rick in Casablanca, the one where the Letters of Transit were hidden in plain sight.

The little upright and stool, mounted under a protective shield (can you imagine someone sitting down to actually tickle those ivories) went for $3.2 Million, and you can well understand why.  There is something about Casablanca that holds our attention and our loyalty, something about it that doesn’t age.  It’s hokey, it’s improbable, and it has just about every cliché we’ve come to love, and repeat, and giggle over.  One of my favorite reviews was by Pauline Kael, who claimed, "It's far from a great film, but it has a special appealingly schlocky romanticism...” Whenever I come across that, my thought is always some variation of “enjoy your snotty elitism” (or something less printable…)

It was a serendipitous coincidence that the New York Times ran a story about the auction on the same day that the conservative columnist David Brooks published The Unifying Leader.  Brooks strikes me increasingly as a lost soul, unable to find an intellectual home in a Republican Party that has become fiercely anti-intellectual.  Not that he’s in the least bit interested in being a Democrat.  But, if you asked Brooks, privately, what he thought of the GOP of Palin, Bachmann, and Stockman he might point you in the direction of Irving Kristol, considered a founder of neo-conservatism and a man of great intellectual depth, and his sophomoric son, William Kristol, who trades off his father’s name and makes an industry out of vacuous rabble-rousing.  Irving is gone, and Bill is not, and Brooks has run out of kindred spirits.  He needs an emotional bridge to the next President, and we need one as well.

What Brooks wants is a “collaborative leader,” someone who has “rejected the heroic, solitary model of leadership. He doesn’t try to dominate his organization as its all-seeing visionary, leading idea generator and controlling intelligence.” 

To paraphrase, collaborative leaders share certain qualities; they create a culture of collaboration and not competition, they tone down the partisanship, they bring multiple interest groups to the table in drafting and enacting important legislation and look for bold solutions, not tepid compromise, they empower groups to come up with solutions by giving them responsibility without micromanaging, they place themselves as a center of gravity, an honest broker between extremes, they understand that the sausage-making process can be messy but the mess is less relevant than the result.  What Brooks also craves is a leader with the strength of ego to have a thick skin about the slings and arrows thrown his way, mixed with a certain ruthlessness when it comes cutting people from the herd, regardless of their talents, when they simply refuse to play well with others.

Brooks’ piece is interesting in that it’s completely non-partisan, beyond the inevitable tacit conclusion we draw that the person he describes is to be found nowhere in Washington—particularly in the White House.  But I also think it's an exercise in worship of an ideal that has never existed in history, a hagiographic rendering of a wise Philosopher-King such as Marcus Aurelius, who embraced Stoicism and was informed by it as a ruler.

Brooks is being impractical.  The type of leader he describes has been President only in bits and pieces—FDR’s “first class temperament” and Reagan’s sunny self-assurance, Lincoln’s extraordinary sense of purpose, Jefferson’s intellect, LBJ’s cat-herding ability, etc.  Look out at the current cast of 2016 aspirants, and you don’t see anyone projecting those types of strength.

And, I think Brooks is wrong.  We really don’t want a collaborative leader.  She isn’t going to be able to get anything done—likely sabotaged by ideologues on both sides of the aisle or held hostage by nihilists who prefer scorched Earth to any type of compromise. 

Rather, I think many of us are looking for something out of Casablanca—a reluctant but tough warrior, someone who can tell the difference between right and wrong, regardless of which side it comes from, someone just world-weary enough to be able to make the right decision even when it involves personal sacrifice.

We don’t want Victor Laszlo, a man who, having recently escaped from a concentration camp, shows up remarkably healthy and impeccably dressed at Rick’s Café.  It's an interesting bit of trivia that Paul Henreid, who plays Laszlo, didn’t want the role because he felt it showed him as stiff—he was right, Laszlo may be “the leader of a great movement” but he leaves us cold and uninvolved.  Watch Ingrid Bergman’s Ilsa in the great “dueling songs” scene, where Laszlo leads the band, and eventually the crowd, in "La Marseillaise."  Her beautiful face registers admiration and concern, not love.

We certainly don’t want Louis Renault, the gleefully corrupt and libidinous local Vichy Captain.  Given some of the best lines in the movie, Claude Rains is wonderfully suave and witty.  He would make a great Senator, charming and cajoling, happily patting backs and taking bribes, but he’s not the right man for the top job. 

It’s Rick, or Richard, as Ilsa called him when they were in Paris.  The very embodiment of embittered rationalism when we first meet him, hurt to the core when Ilsa arrives with Victor, we see him show exquisite compassion to the beautiful young East European woman who, out of love, is willing to do anything (including sleep with Captain Renault) to escape with her husband.  We watch him wrestle with his emotions, marinate himself in self-pity, then, after Ilsa's explanation and confession of continued love forces him to confront his own pain, rouse himself to give everything up and plan Victor and Ilsa’s escape.  It's the right thing to do, for himself, and for the world. 

Rick isn't David Brooks’ ideal.  He is not a collaborative leader at all—he’s a loner who didn’t convene committees or hold community-building exercises before moving decisively.

But he might just be our kind of guy—the one with the Letters of Transit, the one who can take us from being stranded in Casablanca to a better place. 

For my next President, I’d like to see a little FDR, and a little LBJ, and a little Jefferson and a generous dollop of Lincoln and even a dash of Reagan.  But I’m also rooting for just a touch of Rick. 

Find that person, regardless of the party he or she belongs to, and it might be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

November 30, 2014

Michael Liss (Moderate Moderator)

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Thirty-Four Minutes With An Opera Singer

Thirty-Four Minutes With An Opera Singer

November 18, 2014

Have you ever noticed that “Opera” and “Obama” are both five-letter words, starting and ending with the same vowels? Coincidence, or conspiracy?

The similarities don’t stop there.  Both words are of foreign extraction, both elicit deeply passionate reactions, and both evoke legends that often have very little relationship to reality.

After the riotous booing by the electorate after Scene I, Act II, there have been some cast changes, made with the expectation of a more harmonious collaboration between the leads, the chorus, and the orchestra.  The show must go on.

As you might have guessed, I wasn’t all that thrilled with the audience reaction, although I have to admit the performances could have used a little extra polish, so I went looking for some professional advice.

The great American mezzo, Joyce DiDonato, seemed the perfect place to start.  First, my daughter adores her.  Secondly, she loves baseball, a clear sign of a discriminating temperament: If you don’t know who she is, she sang the National Anthem (opera singer, baseball fan, and a patriot!) prior to the seventh game of this year’s World Series.  Third, she showed uncommon grace when something unexpected occurred.  And finally, the woman can really bring it.  Check out the range, check out those high notes.

So, what could Joyce DiDonato teach pretty much everyone in government, from Barack Obama on down?  Watch this clip of a portion of a master-class she gave at Julliard.

For this half an hour, she just talked to the students.  About life, and her (and their) choice of a career, and the incredible demands that career will make upon them, about success and failure, about commitment, about hearing that little critical voice in their heads, and knowing when to heed it and when to ignore it.  Most importantly, she talked about the work.  What it takes beyond just talent—the time in the practice room, the knowledge that you won’t be perfect in performance (and the audience will remember the botched F a lot more than the cascade of beauty that will surround it.)  She tells these eager, ambitious, immensely gifted young people to take their eyes, for the moment, off opera.  Instead, they should go abroad, learn Italian, French and German, since they will be singing in these languages, read books, look at beautiful paintings, immerse themselves in living, because only through that extra knowledge of experiencing and loving and feeling can they truly project on the stage all the emotions that a great performer must show and a great performance must deliver.

What she’s talking about, without saying it explicitly, is that her work demands a commitment to excellence, and excellence doesn’t come easy. Want pressure?  How about preparing for the lead in the Metropolitan Opera’s premier of Donizetti’s torturous Maria Stuarda and knowing that “there are 100 notes” she’s not perfect on.  That little voice, whispering doubts?  The only way you hold them at bay when you walk on stage is to do the work, all of it, so the mistakes you make have nothing to do with preparation.

Last week, I wrote about putting humans in charge, about freeing the individual from the narrow confines of bureaucracy to succeed, and I suggested that the Democrats learn from the pasting they took by advancing a broad-based agenda of liberty, with responsibility, on both social and economic issues. Like DiDonato, celebrate both the effort, and the accomplishment, of the individual.

This week, I want to take a different tact.  Government isn’t just about the individual, even the Presidency.  It's truly like an opera.  Even with the most stellar of leads, you don’t make beautiful music when the orchestra is dull, the conductor uninspired, and the chorus flat. 

Why do so many of our electeds make such an unpleasant sound?  Some just can’t help themselves.  But vast majority of others just haven’t taken the time to prepare themselves for their responsibilities. How many in Washington have done anything close to what Joyce DiDonato told her audience was a necessity for a life in music? What is their experience in running large organizations?  What technical expertise do they bring to the committees they head? What do they know of the private sector, or how legislation is actually drafted and enacted?  Do they speak any other languages, have they any understanding of the culture in Europe, in Asia, in the Middle East?  What background do they have in military deployment or procurement?   In short, have they put in the work, so when they get on the big stage, the false notes they will invariably hit won’t come from a lack of preparation?  Or are they there simply either because they were “electable” or just kooky enough to make it through the primaries in an ideologically driven district?

If you want an answer to that, take a look at the three most prominent pieces of legislation that have emerged in the Obama Presidency: First, Obamacare, well-intended but poorly thought-out and drafted, which would have been helped immeasurably if either side had the courage (courage is the right word) to amend and improve it with the technical fixes that are commonplace.  Second, Keystone, a pipeline over the United States, which does virtually nothing for the American consumer and has the potential for significant environmental risk, but does stimulate construction jobs and economic activity.  Finally, immigration reform, a seething mess of poor planning, appalling opportunism, ugly prejudice, and blatant political opportunism.  We couldn’t do better on any of these?

Of course we could, if only we demanded better of both political parties and the candidates they nominate.  We don’t because we, too, don’t do the work.  We neither inform ourselves on the issues, beyond slogans, nor bother to vote. They won’t or can’t, and we let them be that way.

About twenty years ago, my wife and I went to a performance of Aida. The male lead, Lando Bartolini, had been the victim of one of the worst opening night reviews imaginable (“crushing dullness” was one of the kinder comments.)  In Act I, Bartolini appears (to a few snickers) in tunic and elevator sandals, he looks into the audience with an expression that surely meant “oh, no, I’m sure they have all read it” and launches into his big, opening aria, Celeste Aida. He finishes, frozen, and is enveloped in silence.  It must have been the longest few seconds in his career.  Then a smattering of polite applause, and he exits, stage left.

Right now, there are a lot of people in Washington I wish would follow Lando’s lead.  Maybe if we promise them polite applause, they will agree to exit?

Somehow, I fear it won’t be that easy.  So I suggest we be proactive, and send them thirty minutes of Joyce DiDonato.  Or, better yet, add the two from her performance at the World Series.  Turns out that at the conclusion, she tripped and took a header in front of millions.  Got right back up to thunderous cheers.  When you do the work, you are prepared for anything.

Michael Liss (Moderate Moderator)

Comments?  Email us.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

After the Floor--Putting Humans in Charge

After the Flood—Putting Humans in Charge

As expected, the Democrats were demolished last week.  Their losses, invariably characterized as a wave with an enhancing adjective (epic, tidal, monumental) really are hard to grasp without acknowledging reality—those voters who did turn out engaged in a remarkable exercise of repudiation.

They deserved every last bit of the licking they took.  Not because of any of the usual reasons, not even because of the public perception of Mr. Obama’s performance.  They lost, to paraphrase a friend, because they have no unifying ideas—they are just a collection of special interests, and when it came to casting a ballot, those interests weren’t very interested.

My friend is a “soft” conservative who is enthusiastic about all the wonderful new people the GOP has just elected.  As you might guess, I’m considerably more sanguine about the immediate future—as a precaution, I checked my passport and made sure the apartment had extra water and dried foods.

But still, he’s right.  The Republicans offer some coherence even beyond Obama-bashing.  They are pro-business, anti-tax, pro-religion, pro-gun, anti-abortion, pro-drilling, anti-environment, etc. etc.  The ground they stand on is very logically laid out.  There are some intra-party disputes, but those disputes are largely of degree and not of direction. The Democrats don’t bring the same consistency to the table.  Their philosophy is a bit akin to your aging uncle who is still living in the 1960’s—what's left of his hair is in a pony-tail, he’s still playing vinyl, still has one of the original Honda Civics, and still has a basement finished in knotty pine.  He’s actually a very good guy, but on his horizon is a fuzzy, warm egalitarian place where everyone has enough, and no one is burdened with excessive responsibility. 

The Democrats think that their utopia is superior to that of the Republicans—a stark, cold one where contraception and abortion are denied, the babies are then put out on the ice with nothing more than a Bible and a rifle, and the only ones who survive are those who can swim in the globally warmed seas. 

Morally, I can make an argument for kinder and gentler, but practically and politically--not within the construct that the Democrats are defending.  By focusing on a system-wide safety net, a web not only of support but also of constraint, they are estranging themselves from individual aspirations and individual accomplishments. Ask nothing of people, and you run the risk of having them give you what you asked for.

This point was driven home to me last Thursday, when I was fortunate enough to attend a conference sponsored by Columbia University’s Center on Capitalism and Society, and Common Good, “The Future of the Individual: Social Protections Constricting Innovation and Accomplishment.”  The panels included Philip K. Howard, who is the Founder and Chair of Common Good, a non-partisan organization devoted to legal reform and the reduction of bureaucracy, three Nobel Prize winners, Edmund Phelps, Robert Schiller, and Daniel Kahneman, along with people like the philosopher Esa Saarinen, Mark Taylor, Chair of the Department of Religion at Columbia, and William Brody, former President of Johns Hopkins and now head of the Salk Institute

With some differences in nuance, the panelists all agreed that Western nations were all organized in a way to reduce individual initiative and choice.  This governing philosophy applies not only to governments but also to many large corporations, resulting in a stifling of innovation in both the public and private sector.  To grossly oversimplify, you aren’t asked to get something done, rather you are told how to get it done, and observance of form is more important than actually accomplishing the task. 

The net is either poorer performance, or even non-performance, and a sense of estrangement from the entire process. Their solution is greater empowerment of the individual, the reduction of regulatory overhead and superstructure, and the creation of what Howard called a “corral” with an “open area for human responsibility.”

It is a very powerful argument, but doesn’t take note of a serious hurdle.  Change such as the panelists want requires both a real desire for individual freedom, and a political climate that is willing to experiment.  I am not sure we have either, rather, I think we have one in which the winners are the purse-holders for those freedoms.  

The first problem is that most people don’t really believe in individual freedom as a unifying concept, except in the abstract. They really don’t buy the “corral” idea.  Rather they prefer to see freedom on a spectrum—freedoms they passionately want for themselves, freedoms that don’t touch their lives and they are roughly neutral on, and “anti-freedoms”--freedoms they passionately want to keep others from exercising.

The second is that our political system has developed a peculiar form of inflexibility, in that neither party seems able to accommodate much internal variation from orthodoxy, but both need to find ways to attract less monolithic “swing” voters in the general electorate.  Rather than move on ideas, they focus on packaging and tactics.

This leaves the voter to be treated as a shopper.  You can hone a specific message compatible with a specific market for a particular freedom or anti-freedom. If it is something resonant with that market (a classic example is the 2ND Amendment) the rest of your “product” doesn’t come under such close scrutiny.  These voters you interest aren’t necessarily single-issue as much as issue-prioritized—but they are highly motivated, and they go to the polls.

When you think about this, it makes perfect sense, because most people are both informed by their own life-experience, and self-interested.  You saw this last week, when the 65 and older crew voted at twice the rate of Millennials.  What did the Seniors want prioritized? Social Security and war (they were for both.)  The Millennials wanted more education and more economic opportunity. Part of the (tactical) story of last Tuesday was that Mr. Obama and the Democrats were unable to persuade younger voters to turn out, in large part because of the (practical) reason that the President and his party haven’t really been able to show they can deliver on what Millennials need the most.   

That Senior vs. Millennial voting behaviors demonstrate the central paradox that the Democrats face.  The things that Seniors voted Republican for—socialized medicine (Medicare), risk-free pensions (Social Security) and an aggressive and muscular military and foreign policy, all require the large scale “Big Government” action that the modern state does tolerably well. The things that Millennials want—better education and work opportunities and a vibrant economy, are things that centralized government fails at.  That should tell the Democrats that their core organizing electoral principle no longer works.  It’s time to change, the sooner, the better.

The Democrats have been offered a huge opportunity—in defeat, they should re-think why they were rejected, and forget every tactical excuse.  They should seize the mantle of personal responsibility and personal empowerment, not just in the bedroom, but also in the economic sphere.  They don’t need to be Republicans—in fact, the GOP is just as much in love with state action as the Democrats are, and have no problem outsourcing government to corporate interests and social issues to organized religion.  The electorate isn’t all that much in love with that either.  Rather, Democrats should challenge themselves, as the conferees suggested, to strip the superstructure of bureaucracy and entrenched interest, including their own.

Once they do that, once they decide what they really want to accomplish, what beans they really want, rather than just how to count them, then they can truly “put humans in charge.”

They might surprise themselves.  Those humans just might appreciate the trust.

November 11, 2014

Michael Liss (Moderate Moderator)

Monday, November 3, 2014

Jonah and Queeg

November 3, 2014

Tomorrow, the Republicans are going to absolutely obliterate the Democrats.  They will materially increase their majority in the House, and they are going to take the Senate with room to spare.  Mitch McConnell has not only measured the drapes, he’s going to have the entire place reupholstered.

I could give you a lot of tactical reasons.  The Republicans have a better ground game this year.  The Kochs have poured money everywhere—the return on their investment will be many-fold, but they are long-range investors, and the really gigantic yield will come in 2017.  There are no Mourdochs, no Todd Akins, no kooky major candidates.   Several popular Democratic incumbents have retired, leaving a lot of turf to defend.  Some of the at-risk seats were grabbed by Democrats when Obama won his first election, in 2008, and they may be standing on less firm legs.  All true, all tilt things in the GOP direction.

But nothing compares to the enormous impact of the widespread unhappiness with Barack Obama.  Much of it entirely merited.  I like Barack Obama, I voted for him twice, I am much more in sync with him on many major issues than I am with the GOP, I had hopes he would really move the country forward, I acknowledge he was dealt a horrible hand, but at this point, it really doesn’t matter.  Obama has a 40% approval rating because he deserves it.  If you went to a doctor with a difficult and debilitating set of conditions, and he probed you and tested you and examined you and prescribed for you, and some of the problems you had were somewhat better, but you still felt lousy every morning, you might very well blame the physician instead of the disease.

Of course, this is unfair.  We have an absurd desire to hold our leaders to an impossible standard of being supermen, while at the same time insisting they do everything exactly the way we would.  Or, if we happen to be nothing but a partisan or ideologue, nothing they could possibly do would ever be anything less than awful, even if what they did we basically agree with, or everything they do would be absolutely wonderful, even if what they did was against our interest.  That is the nature of the political animal, and it is human nature as well. 

But when it comes to a President, just like the doctor, fair doesn’t matter.  We want to feel better, and Obama hasn’t made us feel that way. On the two seminal issues, peace and prosperity, we are all unhappy. The war in Iraq that all but the most die-hard neocons wanted to end, has basically ended, but a new and virulent disease has sprung up, allowing those die-hards to demand it continue endlessly to legitimize their mistakes.  The economy is better (and much better if you compare it to the day Obama took office) but the recovery is uneven—the rich are richer than ever before, and the middle and working classes are just getting by. 

That backdrop makes it far harder for Obama to persuade people that things are improving.  Then, you layer in the big, ugly social issues that enrage subsets of the population; abortion, guns, gay rights, immigration, the role of religion in public life—all of which have played out with great violence over the last few years, and you have an unhappy stew of dissatisfaction.  Everyone has something to complain about.  

The Democrats know it.  They have been running as fast as they can from Mr. Obama. Obama is like the biblical Jonah, whose presence on a ship induces an enormous storm, and needs to be thrown overboard for the seas to calm.

But, I don't think the Jonah analogy is at all apt, if for no other reason that tossing him isn't going to save anyone.  Rather, I keep coming back to a different trope I’ve seen in far-right publications.  Obama is like Captain Queeg, perhaps competent for some lower-level job, but burned out, unhinged in a typhoon, unable to deal with myriad crises, and ultimately relived of command for being unfit. The brave officers who stepped in did so at the risk of their own reputations and their own professional futures.

It’s a tempting analogy, and one easily repeated and adapted.  But one of the nice things about fiction is that it’s a lot like politics, in that the teller can demonstrate a convenient memory and an even more convenient conscience.   Watch The Caine Mutiny to the end, and you get a little different take.  Barney Greenwald, the defense attorney who gets Queeg to crack on the stand (the strawberries) later shows up at a cocktail party where the now-acquitted mutineers are celebrating.  He’s a little drunk, and a little indiscreet, and throws a little cold water over things. It is true that Queeg failed—he was intellectually and emotionally exhausted, but he wasn’t helped by any of the officers at the party, who spurned him and made fun of him and thought he wasn’t good enough.  

Bad government (or even less-than-perfect government) doesn’t just happen. It's a team effort, and whatever Mr. Obama’s flaws are, they are matched by a large number of officers (our officers, since we send them there) who just weren’t going to help.  Six years of government, not one single moment of cooperation.

That’s a winning strategy.  As The Hill points out this morning, the GOP has succeeded in making this election about Obama, and is about to reap the rewards.  But later, there’s a ship to run, and typhoons seem to be popping up everywhere.

When I look at the leadership in Washington these days, from Mr. Obama on down, I don’t see a lot of hope for positive change.  The GOP has a big stake in showing they can govern responsibly, as a predicate for attempting to sweep in 2016, but I honestly think they don’t have it in them. 

Still, tomorrow night, the champagne will flow, and flow red.

Wednesday morning, the rest of us will have the hangover.  It’s still our ship. 

Michael Liss (Moderate Moderator)

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Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Infallibility Complex

The Infallibility Complex

Ross Douthat has a wonderful piece in this Sunday’s New York Times, The Pope and the Precipice, in which he discusses, at some length, the struggle going on in the Catholic Church today impelled by Pope Francis’ apparent desire to, in Douthat’s words, “rethink issues where Catholic teaching is in clear tension with Western social life—sex and marriage, divorce and homosexuality.”

Douthat is a conservative, and a traditionalist, and is clearly unhappy with the less censorious direction that Francis seems to be indicating.  He is not alone in this.  A majority of the hierarchy seems to agree with Douthat, and they have apparently won an important skirmish at the recently concluded synod, where an early draft document seemed to reflect Francis’ more open views, but was materially toned down prior to release. 

I am not a Catholic and don’t pretend to understand the theological issues. They do appear to me to be strikingly similar to some of the “culture wars” going on here, with some groups hoping to be more inclusive as a way of expanding and making more relevant the faith to those who are being raised in a more permissive environment, while others see strict adherence to what Douthat calls the Church’s “historic teaching.”

Douthat wants to suppress this more liberal urge in the Church, the same way he wants to express state power to enforce his moral beliefs in the secular world.  Douthat has never suggested that the barriers between Church and State be dissolved.  Rather, he sees his religious code, at least with regard to social issues, as the correct way to govern people, regardless of their religious affiliation.  It is a position that appears to be grounded in his faith, and not mere political expediency.  To put it a different way, Douthat couldn't be a Democrat, regardless of how many tax cuts they might offer.

He writes with great precision, but there is one bit of his logic I find fascinating: How to deal with Papal Infallibility?  If the Pope is indeed Infallible, and this is the direction Francis wants to lead in, why do Douthat and the conservative hierarchy resist? Or, more accurately, how do they resist? 

Douthat reconciles this apparent contradiction by reaching the conclusion that Papal Infallibility derives from strict adherence to a Traditionalist point of view. And, in an interesting echo of modern, even Tea Party politics, he warns that unless the Traditionalist prevails, Francis will provoke a schism, presumably of the type that split the Western and Eastern Churches in 1054.  He concludes that if Francis does not move towards the conservative point of view “this Pope may be preserved from error only if the Church itself resists him.”

It would be easy for me to jump to the conclusion that Douthat was merely engaging in a solipsism, that his certainty about his faith was so great that he assumed Francis must be wrong, but the piece is so well written and so tightly reasoned it is worth reading twice, if for no other reason as to give you a glimpse into the way he would govern in the secular world, if given the opportunity.

For a different way of thinking about the centrality of traditional orthodoxy and the presumption that deviation from a conservative faith is anathema, I would also suggest you read Carly Fiorina’s Washington Post op-ed, “Companies shouldn’t cave in to the demands of climate change activists.”

Ms. Fiorina, if you recall, was CEO of Hewlett-Packard from 1999-2005, until she was forced out after the stock of the company had fallen by half after her highly contentious and dubious merger strategy with Compaq. In 2010 she ran against California Senator Barbara Boxer (she lost) and presently is toying with either a run for California Governor, or President. 

Her piece has less to do about climate change than it is a prolonged rant against the evils of activists daring to challenge ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, a group she defines as “an alliance of state legislators who advocate limited government, free markets, and individual liberty…” 

The article is a masterpiece of disingenuous garbage, wrapped up in a mock concern about  professional activists intent on chilling speech and marginalizing the voice of business and job creators in U.S. society.”

I know, it’s torture to even think about the chilled speech of the job creators.  They have been so silent in this election cycle.

Here is what ALEC does, and you can agree with it or not.  It isn’t just the alliance of state legislators that Ms. Fiorina says it is—it is an alliance of state legislators with corporate lobbyists who draft business-favorable legislation for those legislators, while offering additional support to them.  ALEC has drafted literally thousands of bills, some of which have been adopted whole, without any debate. And, it isn’t just for those who “advocate limited government, free markets, and individual liberty…” ALEC has also been funding conservative social causes, including banning gay marriage, and abortion, and it has provided model voter ID laws for 30-odd state Legislatures.  ALEC also supported the effort to expand “Stand Your Ground” after Florida’s “success” with it, and “ag-gag” bills that criminalize investigations into large-scale livestock farming and slaughter houses and classify them as “terrorism.”

As some of ALEC’s role in more controversial issues has become public, some companies (including Pepsi, Coke, McDonald’s, GE, GM, Microsoft, Google, Facebook and even HP and Wal-Mart) have withdrawn their support, and this is what seems to enrage Ms. Fiorina. She blames climate change activists, but in fact, only Google gave ALEC’s position on climate change as a reason.  The real motivation that these huge companies have been distancing themselves is pure and simple.  It’s bad for business.  They know that the public expects them to lobby for greater profits and more favorable legislation.  But they also know that their customers might be much less willing to purchase their products if they found out that those companies were backing legislation that was personally anathema to them. 

Money has talked, and bigger money has walked, and Ms. Fiorina can’t stand it.

Both Douthat and Fiorina share an appreciation for implacable certainty, and leave little doubt of where they would go if they were King (or Pope.)  But read the two pieces, and you can see the difference between two approaches.   Ms. Fiorina oozes angered contempt, Mr. Douthat is the velvet glove of reasoned explanation (albeit shielding the closed fist of schism.)

The GOP is going to romp next Tuesday, and might very well take it all in 2016.  Fiorina and Douthat are faces of a coalition of conservatives who could rule, a merger of anything-goes-capitalism with an ascetic social vision.  The question for the country will be one both of policy, and temperament.

Or, maybe it’s just a question of infallibility?  I am a person who is suspicious of the concept.  How about you?

October 26th, 2014

Michael Liss (Moderate Moderator)

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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Numbers Game: Turnout or Turn Away?

Numbers Game: Turnout or Turn Away?

With the election looming, it is time for all people who are secret quants to turn to numbers.  I am going to start with two: 24 and 31. 24 is the number of people fatally stricken by lightening since January 1 of this year.  31 is the number of documented voter identification fraud cases—since the year 2000.

What does this tell us, besides being sure we get under cover when we hear thunder?  Let me add another 24.  24 is also the number of states that have enacted more restrictive voting rules in the last three years, presumably to combat a dread of those (civic) lightening strikes.  Then there is the number One.  That’s the number that Wisconsin Governor and 2016 GOP Presidential aspirant Scott Walker says keeps him awake at night.  One shattering moment of voting fraud—just one moment--would destroy a virtuous Walker supporter rights to choose his or her man at the ballot box. 

I am not the kind of person who wants even Scott Walker to reach for the Ambien bottle.  I feel his pain.  I understand the anxiety he must be experiencing in actually having to accept the judgment of an electorate that is anything other than handpicked.

So, what does an ambitious pol do, especially one with a ruthless streak?  How can you make all those numbers sing?

There is always the tried and true.  When you are pulling all the strings, it’s not all that hard impede people who want to pull the wrong lever: fewer voting machines, in fewer polling places, staffed by fewer number of hopefully hostile poll workers, lead to longer and longer lines.  And, when time’s up, it’s up.  If that’s not good enough, there’s always the dump-the-ballot box in the swamp technique.  There is virtually no limit to the type of low cunning a person or party on the make won’t demonstrate, and we have a rich and bipartisan history to demonstrate that.

Still, in this world of infinite media coverage, a little more sophistication might also be called for.  That is where data mining comes in.  Once you have identified who is likely to vote and when, you can tailor things to reduce the probability that “wrong-minded” voters will actually cast those “low information” ballots. Let’s say your numbers show that a disproportionate number of the “wrong” voters are shift, hourly, or per diem workers.  If they don’t show up for work, or work fewer hours, they don’t get paid.  Cutting back on early and weekend voting is the perfect way to discourage them. Or, you find that church communities pray together and then vote, as a congregation, after services.  Eliminate or restrict Sunday voting, and gain the added bonus of disenfranchising parishioners who are otherwise too elderly to drive. Concerned about college students voting in the states they attend school in?  Tighten residency requirements and threaten them with prosecution.  

Of course, while all those techniques bear fruit, the ripest and most delectable are the voter identification rules. These allow you to feel virtuous (“if I have to show ID to buy a beer, why shouldn’t I have to show one to vote”) while knowing very well that there are a surprising number of people who don’t necessarily have the government-issued ID required.  Are all those folk evil ballot stuffers and fraudsters?  Not exactly.  Only about a third of us have passports.  In rural areas, older folk were often born at home and don’t have a hospital-administered birth certificate, even if they have been voting for decades.  In urban areas, a surprising number don’t have driver’s licenses, because cities with good mass-transit infrastructure don’t demand it.

Before my conservative readers jump all over me and assume I am against voter identification laws, I am not.  But it’s not so simple, regardless of whether you like the result.  Is there any serious argument that one could make against the proposition that when government choses to put in place a series of new rules that have a chilling effect on such a seminal right as voting, it also has a duty to show wide latitude in accepting valid forms of identification, and in enabling those who do not have documentation to obtain it at no cost?

Sadly, those in the rule-making game don't see it that way. And, ever since the Supreme Court decision in "Shelby" eviscerated the Voting Right Act of 1965, it's been open season for legislation that is clearly targeted at certain groups, hiding behind a veneer of facially non-discriminatory language.  That has led to a lot of litigation, and the forces of voter suppression seem to have built a strong early lead.  SCOTUS is back in the middle of critical and highly controversial cases in three states: North Carolina, Wisconsin, and Texas. 

In North Carolina, SCOTUS permitted, pending their final rulings, the imposition of voter ID laws, and also the ending of same-day registration and out of precinct voting.  Minorities complained that the laws were aimed at them, since they often used same day registration.  And, who votes out of precinct? North Carolina State residents who just happen to college students at one of the sixteen state-sponsored universities, including Chapel Hill, or some of the illustrious private ones, such as  Duke and Wake Forest.  Think about that for a moment.  A North Carolina resident cannot vote in statewide elections because he or she is taking classes in a different precinct—in North Carolina.   

In Wisconsin, “Act 23” not only introduced demands for specific types of voter ID, but also included a provision that disallowed any otherwise proper form of government issued identification if there were any variant spellings (such as a missing “Jr.” a middle name or a maiden name.) The Federal District Judge assigned to the case overturned it on the grounds it showed pervasive discriminatory intent, but he was reversed at the Circuit level.  SCOTUS, interestingly enough, vacated the appeals court ruling in large part because the reversal came so close to the election and might lead to confusion.  Among other reasons, Wisconsin had neglected to mention to absentee ballot users that their vote would be rejected unless they included a copy of their ID when they returned the ballot. fascinating omission, wouldn't you say?

Texas, as always, is the big kahuna, and here SCOTUS permitted their new voting law to take effect, even though the trial court found that it could disenfranchise as many as 600,000 (mostly minority) voters.  The ruling is seen as a huge win for Texas’ Attorney General, Greg Abbott, who, purely by coincidence, happens to be running for Governor this year.

So, what’s next? Short term, we are going to have an election in which new rules will be in effect in many states. I would expect that even in this likely Republican wave year, there could be several elections that might be close, and it would not shock if the new rules were decisive in some.  Then, in this term, the Supreme Court will hear the arguments on the voter’s rights cases.  They should render their decisions by next June. 

Resent the idea that your vote is fraudulent simply because you picked the boys and girls in the wrong uniforms? Here is my suggestion to those organizations who believe their right to vote was taken from them. Document every last bit of it—every voter who was denied access as a result of the new rules.  Then, take that evidence, if you have it, and get it before the Supreme Court.

Why?  Because we need certitude.  If SCOTUS legitimizes these little tricks of the trade, then the losers are just going to have to be better and smarter for 2016.  That means a better ground game, more early registration, and help with obtaining necessary documents.

Will they?  There are a lot people who believe that going to SCOTUS has become just another place for partisanship, regardless of the law.  I acknowledge that there are Justices who have clear ideological preferences and want to pick winners and losers.  But, as an institution, I don’t buy it.  The legitimacy of the Court rests on its reputation for calling them as it sees them, with balance and fairness.  The ultimate disposition of the North Carolina, Wisconsin, and Texas cases are a profound test of that. 

One last number for you: Four.  Four Constitutional Amendments that include the words “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged…”

Let’s find out if SCOTUS is in favor of turnout….or turn-away.

October 23, 2014

Michael Liss (Moderate Moderator)

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